11 January 2019

South Africa: Overstrand Warns of 'More Serious Fines' for Illegal Fires After Devastating Blaze

The Overstrand Municipality has warned of more serious fines for people who start fires illegally in the wake of a devastating blaze in the area.

The fire, which started on New Year's Eve, devastated areas near Betty's Bay, Pringle Bay, Hangklip and Rooi Els over the past two weeks.

"We received a lot of assistance from the Overberg District Municipality and other volunteers and farm owners," acting mayor Elnora Gillion told News24.

She said that officials were still cautious because there was still strong wind in the area.

"It was only yesterday and this morning that we could declare the fire has been 100% contained. We did not open the R44 road as yet because helicopters are still on standby and we still have very strong winds.

"There can be flare-up afterwards as well," Gillion added.

She warned that the municipality would investigate stronger penalties for illegal fires and fireworks.

"As a council, we will look into higher fines and stronger fines for fireworks. People must be held accountable."

News24 reported that Shelton April, 34, appeared in the Caledon Magistrate's Court on Monday, where the case was postponed for a week, a court official confirmed.

He is accused of causing the devastating blaze after a flare was lit.

Fireworks are banned in Overstrand. Gillion urged the community to work with the municipality to keep fires to a minimum.

But these efforts have had limited success.

"You need the community to assist you and at the start of the fire season, we do education and awareness campaigns. It never works out even though we banned fireworks in Overstrand," said Gillion.

But even as officials assess their success for the huge fire, a protest in Gansbaai has caused concern.

"We have quite a huge challenge because in Gansbaai there is a protest and someone set a field on fire, and stretches our resources," Gillion said.

Gillion said businesses in the area were encouraged to provide relief for firefighters, some of whom worked 24-hour shifts on the fire line.

"As councillors, we will talk to the community and ask who will assist and we will have massages for the firefighters.

"Their muscles will be aching and their eyes and ears will be in pain - we buy Eye Gene and ear drops."

Source: News24

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